Thursday, July 03, 2008

Grand Theft Auto

Nonsensical surcharges for road tolls

July 3, 2008

The Dallas Morning News
Copyright 2008

Using local toll roads can be a royal pain in the tailpipe for rental-car drivers.

But it doesn't have to be that way. Many rental companies are the culprits here and should quit looking at Dallas-Fort Worth customers like they are a bunch of suckers.

Here's how the public gets hosed: Some stretches of road controlled by the North Texas Tollway Authority are equipped with cameras – not coin baskets – for toll collection. If a driver doesn't have a TollTag to accept automatic charges, a camera shoots the license plate.

Regular drivers get a bill in the mail. Rental drivers might get an awful surprise on their credit card statement in the form of hefty "administrative" fees imposed courtesy of their rent agreement.

Thus, a few dollars in tolls can turn into hundreds of dollars of charges against the unsuspecting customer.

Talk about grand theft auto!

There is a decent way for rental companies to deal with their customers. Enterprise Rent-A-Car, for example, has been providing NTTA with lists of drivers that correspond to the cars snapped by the cameras, and the toll authority bills drivers directly. The information exchange soon will be more efficient through a computerized exchange of data.

Most other companies – you know who you are – turn over toll matters to outside companies that jack up the charges. These rental businesses try to put a good face on the practice, saying their customer contracts contain a toll-charge warning or an offer to sell a type of toll insurance.

That's like selling someone a hamburger that causes indigestion, then defending it with a warning printed on the back of the menu.

Not only is North Texas getting to be a toll-happy place, but NTTA is slowly converting all of its standard toll plazas to photo-only. By 2010, the agency plans to have 90 miles of roads without a coin basket.

We have enough road rage already, and car rental companies should take advantage of technology to avoid ramping it up even more.

© 2008, The Dallas Morning News:

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